Human Being Extraordinaire
There was absolutely nothing half-hearted about Esther Higgins. It seemed that she was constitutionally incapable of holding back in extension of her loving nature. We know that her beloved Martin, husband of over 50 years, might be able to give evidence to the contrary and perhaps her children too. There must have been moments of temper, frustration, and sadness. But her friends, neighbors, parish community, staff and most especially the students at Linden Avenue Middle School saw her only as the most generous, caring, hardworking, perpetually positive and frequently laughing person ever.
Large institutions - businesses, hospitals, and schools at every level - are often overwhelming and in spite of being service oriented entities can seem the very opposite for many individuals. Relief can come in the presence of a person, often not a professional, who by virtue of her humanity and personality, can provide the beating generous, sympathetic heart of the place. This is the person who can miraculously break the tension, restore confidence, heal crushed hearts, and remind one person at a time and face to face that they are good and valuable. This was Esther Higgins' role at Linden Avenue School. Thus Esther cannot simply be described as a school secretary or aide. Esther was a genius at educational facilitation. One could observe her defusing the temper and resentment of a student arriving at school within minutes of an upsetting incident at home. This spared some teacher the task of having to settle down a whole class if the fuse was still afire at first period bell. The guidance counselor had an informal assistant in Esther who in little but oh so meaningful ways could provide follow-up by a brief daily check in with a youngster who needed support and to know that somebody really cared. She was informal counsel, second mother, confidante, ego and self-confidence builder for students, and some adult staff members too. And the adults knew that she could be counted upon to facilitate a solution to any scheduling foul up, to find those missing supplies, to be there when needed. Principals could come and go but support staff such as Esther remained to provide continuity in their knowledge of how things really worked, what kids needed, and to be the smiling face and pleasant voice of the front office.
I met Esther in 1980. The fact that I had known Esther for a long time was always a surprise to Red Hook folk. Esther and I had a little secret between us. We both participated I in an At Home Retreat sponsored By Linwood Spiritual Center in Rhinebeck. We were 13 women meeting once a week for 13 weeks led by a religious sister and a married woman. We came as women of faith wanting to have that faith enriched. Esther and I both came with great pain weighing upon us. I was to learn of the recent death of her son Marty and she would learn of the creeping deterioration of my marriage. Women are relationship people and Esther was more so, even in the depth of her personal grief. She made a special trip to my Kingston home to gift my son with a copy of Shel Silverstine's book "The Giving Tree" to mark his First Communion. When Don Germaine introduced me to his office staff in 1990 Esther and I just looked at each other. The ties formed by our deeply shared experience years before shot between us with magnetic force. We knew lots about each other that was not public knowledge. We had a bond.
St. Francis of Assisi is said to have given this advice to his confreres. "Preach the Gospel. Use words if you must." In these terms Esther was the supreme teacher. She spoke of God as pure love. She acted as if it was her obligation to demonstrate that truth. While very devout, she did not preach with words. Her pulpit was any human situation in which she found herself. She exercised the priesthood of her baptism by befriending, helping, joking, listening, healing, laughing and, on many days, just plain working hard.
To write this is an inadequate redundancy. Those who never met Esther cannot really image this person and for those who did, my description is unnecessary. They were given the blessing of knowing Esther. My human heart has been sad these days and writing here has helped my grief. But my soul is rejoicing. Esther is in the embrace of God. She has the ear of God and will undoubtedly be offering what would be best for those she loved and left behind.